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Steamer Larchmont before it wrecked off the coast of Block Island, click to enlarge
 

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Block Island, Rhode Island Larchmont Disaster

February 1907

150 PERISH IN SEA DISASTER

Either Drown or Freeze to Death After Collision

CRASH COMES IN THE DARK

Survivor, Insane from Cold, Commits Suicide

48 BODIES ARE RECOVERED


Believed Passengers and Crew of Steam Larchmont, Struck by Schooner Harry
Knowlton, Numbered 200, of Which Only 19 Have Been Found Alive - Accident Off Rhode Island Coast - Thinly Clad, Panic-stricken Passengers Rush to Decks - Many of Those Who Take to Lifeboats Are Killed by Zero Weather.

Vessels Blame One Another - Survivors Unable to Tell Detailed Stories - Passenger List in the Pursers' Safe in the Sunken Ship

LARCHMONT DISASTER TOTALS


Estimated dead -------- 150
Saved -------- 19
Bodies recovered -------- 48
Known missing -------- 51
Crew missing -------- 11

Block Island, R. I., Feb 12 - About 150 persons went to their death in Block Island
Sound last night as a result of a collision between the three-masted schooner Harry
Knowlton
and the Joy Line steamer Larchmont, inbound from Providence to New York.

It is estimated that, including the crew, there were nearly 200 persons on board the
steamer when she sailed from Providence. Of these only nineteen appear to have survived the disaster, ten members of the crew and nine passengers. Forty-eight bodies have been recovered. Those who survived the accident follow.

Awakened from slumbers in their staterooms, the unfortunate passengers were at the mercy of the fates. Many, it is believed, went down with the ship. Others, temporarily thankful that they had escaped drowning, prayed that they might be relieved of the terrible pain caused by their frozen bodies, and one man, a passenger whose name could not be learned, plunged a knife into his throat, and ended his suffering.

Survivors' Plight Pitiable.
The few who survived were in a pitable [sic] condition. In almost every case their arms and legs hung helplessly as they were lifted out of the boats in which they reached shore.

During the day forty-eight bodies came ashore, either in boats or thrown up by the sea.

Only six of the forty-eight bodies were identified.

An investigation of the wreck will be instituted by the United Etates [sic] steamboat
inspectors of the Providence district.

Passenger List in Safe.
Owing to the condition of the survivors of the tragedy [sic], it was impossible to get their estimate of the loss of life.

The steamship officials estimate that about 150 passengers and a crew of 50 were on
board the steamer when she left Providence last night. Taking the estimated figures of the steamship officials as a basis, there are still 138 persons to be accounted for.
The only positive evidence of the steamer's victims is lying at the bottom of Block Island Sound. The list of passengers and crew, handed to the purser just before the steamer left Providence, was locked in a safe, and it was not recovered.

The cause of the accident has not been satisfactorily explained. It occurred just off Watch Hill about 11 o'clock last night, when the three-masted schooner Harry Knowlton, bound from South Amboy for Boston with a cargo of coal, crashed into the steamer's port side amidships. Capt. George McVey, of the Larchmont, declares that the Knowlton suddenly swerved from her course, luffed up into the wind, and crashed into his vessel.

Capt. Haley, of the Knowlton, asserts that the steamer did not give his vessel sufficient sea room and that the collision occurred before he could atke [sic] his schooner out of the path of the oncoming steamer.

Steamer Sank Quickly.

The steamer, with a huge hole torn in her side, was so seriously damaged that no attempt was make to run for shore, and she sank to the bottom in less than half an hour. The Knowlton, after she had backed away from the wreck, began to fill rapidly, but here crew manned the pumps and kept her afloat until she reached a point off Quenochontaug [sic], where they put out in the lifeboat and rowed ashore. There were no fatalities on the schooner, but the men suffered from the extreme cold.

There was no comparison, however, between their experiences and those of the
passengers and crew of the steamer. A majority of those on the Larchmont had retired for the night, and when the collision occurred there were few on board, with the exception of the crew, who were propared for the weather which prevailed. They hurried from the warm staterooms to the deck of the steamer and into a zero atmosphere.

Cold Killed Thinly Clad.
Literally chilled to the bone, many rushed headlong below to secure more clothing, while [sic] others, barefooted, bare-headed, and clad only in night gowns, stood on the decks, fearing that to go below would mean certain death. It now appears that the loss of life was heaviest among those who had retired for the night. Despite the efforts which were make to leave no one on board, it would appear to be impossible that of the 200 souls on board none were left behind. Those who had no opportunity to clothe themselves succumbed long before they reached shore, and even those who were fortunate enough to be fully dressed endured suffering and frost bites of a serious nature.

Was Sidewheel Steamer.
The Larchmont, a sidewheel steamer, which was only put into the Joy Line service during the present season, left her dock in Providence last night with a heavy cargo of freight and a passenger list estimated at from 150 to 200. A strong northwest wind was blowing as the steamer plowed her way down through the eastern passage of Narragansett Bay, but the full effect of the gale which was blowing out in the sound was not felt until the Larchmont rounded Point Judith. Then the sidewheeler pointed her nose into the very heart of the gale and continued down through Block Island Sound without any unusual incident until she was well abeam of Watch Hill and within five or six miles of Fishers Island.

Capt. George McVey, who had remained in the pilot house until the vessel had been
straightened out on her course, was preparing to retire after a turn around his ship, when he was startled by several blasts of the steamer's whistle. He rushed into the pilot house, where the pilot and quartermaster pointed out a three-masted schooner sailing eastward before a strong wind.

Schooner Headed Straight:
The schooner, which proved to be the Harry Knowlton, coal laden, from South Amboy
for Boston, had been bowling along on her course when she seemed to suddenly luff up and head straight for the steamer. Again several blasts were sounded on the steamer's whistle, the pilot and quartermaster at the same moment whirling the wheel hard-a-port in a mad endeavor to avoid collision.

But as the Larchmont was slowly veering around in response to her helm, the schooner came on with a speed that almost seemed to equal the gale that had been pushing her toward Boston, Even before another warning signal could be sounded on the steamer's whistle, the schooner crashed into the port side of the Larchmont, and the impact of the big vessel was so terriffic [sic] that the big clumsy bow of the sailing craft forced its way more than half the breadth of the Larchmont. When the force of the impact had been spent, the schooner temporarily remained fast in the steamer's side, holding in check for a moment the in-rushing water.

Water Rushes in Hole.
But the pounding sea soon separated the vessels, and as they backed away the water
rushed into the gaping hole in the steamer with a velocity that could only mean the swift doom of the passenger vessel.

There were no water-tight compartments to be closed, and therefore the flood could not be confined to the damaged section, and it poured in over the cargo and down into the hold. As the water struck the boiler room clouds of steam arose and panic-stricken passengers, all of whom had been thrown from their bunks when the collision occcurred [sic], were at first under the impression that a fire had broken out on board.

Unfortunately, the point of collision was in that part of the steamer where was located the signaling apparatus connecting the engineroom with the pilothouse. Capt. McVey, standing in the pilothouse could not communicate with his subordinate officers below decks, and therefore was unable to determine the extent of the damage. The quartermaster was hurried below to make an investigation.

Passengers Rush to Decks.
The passengers meanwhile rushed to the decks. Few of them had waited to clothe
themselves. Their fear was so great that the first penetrating blast of the zero temperature was disregarded, but the suffering from the cold and water soon became so intense that personal was forgotten in a genral [sic] effort to keep the blood in circulation. Those who had not stopped to clothe themselves now found it impossible to return below and do so.

Their rooms were flooded soon after they had been deserted, and the steamer, floundering around in the high seas that are feared by all Sound navigators, was sinking with a repidity that sent terror to the hearts of the officers and crew. Those men were prompt in answering Capt. McVey's call to quarters. While some of the seamen held back the frantic passengers by brute strength, others were proparing to lower the lifeboats and rafts. There was no time to think of the comfort of any one. Even before the boats were cut away, Capt. McVey knew that the list of victims would be greater than those who survived.

There was a physical impossibility for any but the most hardened to withstand the cold, which turned the ears and noses white with the frost, and which so benumbed the feet that both the passengers and members of the crew stumbled rather than walked to the small craft in which they were to leave the sinking ship.

Suffering Ones Cry Out.
Shrieks of agonized pain drowned the roar of the inrushing water. Pandemonium reigned supreme, but in spite of it, the women on board, suffering more intensely than the men, were placed in lifeboats, the male passengers and members of the crew selecting the unprotected rafts as their vehicle of escape.

Capt. McVey remained on the upper deck directing his officers and crew until every one [sic] on board appeared to have been cared for. He ordered all lifeboats and rafts cut away, and before he stepped into his own boat he stood on the upper deck a moment to see that his order was executed. Then he ordered that his boat, the largest on board, be cleared away. Before the men had an opportunity to loosen the tackles, the bottom of the boat rested on top of the surging sea, which was [illegible] over the hurricane deck and for [illegible] it seemed as though the lifeboat would be dragged down, before she could be freed from the doomed steamer.

Every hand on the boat was too cold to handle a knife and cut the ropes, which, however, slipped through the tackles, and set the boat adrift just as the vessel became submerged. The pitiable condition of the passengers and crew was increased a hundredfold the moment they had launched their boats. Every wave sent its dash of spray over the boats and their contents.

Soon a thin coating of ice enveloped every one. Those who were fully clothed suffered from frozen faces and numbed feet, but there were many who had on only their night clothes.

One Man Kills Himself.
One man in the captain's boat, although dressed warmer than many others, was suddenly driven insane by his intense suffering. He pulled a big clasp knife from his pocket and gashed his throat. On one stayed his hand, and again he plunged his knife into his throat. Those who sat near him either were too dazed to interfere or looked up the act of self-destruction as justified. The man's body fell to the bottom of the boat, where it remained unheeded.

Fishers Point, the nearest point of landing, was not quite five miles to the westward of the point where the steamer went down, and every boat immediately headed for that place. But the boats were heavy, and the men at the oars were weak. A fifty-mile gale blew on their backs as the men strained at the ice-covered oars in a hopeless endeavor to overcome the handicap against which they were struggle in. The boats and rafts soon became separated, and the only details of the terrible disaster which could be learned here were given when Capt. McVey's boat came ashore. Not a man on board was able to walk. Their feet were frozen so badly that the life-savers [sic] carried the survivors bodily to the life-saving station.

Ship's Captain Overcome.
Capt. McVey was so overcome by the enormity of the disaster that for a time he was unable to give a lucid account of what had happened after the ship had gone down. Shortly after his arrival here the captain said that he had on board his ship between 150 and 200 passengers and a crew of 50.

Later he said there were between fifty and seventy-five passengers on board the steamer when the vessel went down. The latter figure, however, is far below the estimate made by the officials of the Joy Line at Providence, who estimated that the number of passengers were not less than 150. The exact number of passengers was given in a list which was handed the purser just before the Larchmont started on her fateful journey, but it is believed that it was lost when the ship went down.

Capt. McVey said that had his crew been able to make progress against the northwest gale, they would have landed at Fishers Island between 12 and 1 o'clock. The wind, however, was too strong to be overcome, and there was nothing left for the suffering seamen but turn around and head for Block Island, fifteen miles away. It was shortly after 11 o'clock when the captain of the boat cut away from the sinking steamer, and it was not until 6:30 o'clock in the morning that it arrived at Block Island. It seemed, the captain said, as through the sever hours' struggle against the elements occupied an eternity, and not a soul in the boat expected to survive the excruciating suffering to which they were subjected.

continued >> Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4

Articles transcribed by Ann.  Thanks Ann!

       

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